Looking at Greece

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Being taken for a ride

It can be argued that taxi drivers as a group are less than popular worldwide, but sometimes they downright deserve this stance against them on the part of the general public.  Greek taxi drivers are well-known for their surliness, dishonesty and unhelpfulness (try finding a Greek taxi driver who will get off his fat backside to help you get your bags out of the boot), especially where foreign tourists are involved, and it is common practice for a taxi driver here to tout for extra business as he is driving you to your destination, so that you end up sharing your taxi crushed up against a bunch of strangers whom he has picked up along the way and whose destination is “on his way” – which usually means not on your way.  Once, I flew into Greece and got chatting to the woman in the seat next to mine on the plane, who was heading to the northern Greek town Florina, about 100 miles from Thessaloniki, to take up a teaching position at a private language school.  When we got through immigration at Thessaloniki Airport, I took her to the taxi rank and told the driver to take her to the bus station in Thessaloniki where she could catch a bus to Florina, as she didn’t speak any Greek.  A few days later I got a postcard from her thanking me for helping her, but also telling me that the taxi driver had simply driven her all the way to Florina and charged her £60.  The bus journey would have cost a tenth of that figure.  Welcome to Greece and the Greeks…

Today we went down to Thessaloniki on the train.  The train station for this town, typically enough for Greece, is in a village about three miles out of town, and the bus service is hardly designed to serve those wishing to take the train to Thessaloniki – the idea of an integrated transport system is totally alien to this country.  The bus journey to Thessaloniki costs €3.50 (£2.39) and takes an hour, the terminus being a 45-minute walk or fifteen-minute bus ride from the centre of the city, while the train costs €1.30 (89p) and takes half an hour, and it delivers you to near the centre of town.  That said, some of the trains are old enough to have carried Plato, ancient and badly-maintained trains withdrawn long ago from service in post-war Germany and now rattling dangerously around Greece, and the one which took us down this morning was swaying and banging about so violently on the rails that I seriously thought we would derail and be thrown about like dice in a shaker; the fare for the same journey on a more modern (yet still not very modern) train jumps to €3.90 (£2.66), which includes a fat “supplement”.  The bus journey, apart from being much longer, far more expensive and inconvenient as regards where you get thrown off, also often involves you being subject to dire Greek music, the unfortunate choice of a bus driver who has never been exposed to anything else.

The title of this blog entry, Being taken for a ride, however, does not actually concern the means of getting to and from Thessaloniki, but rather what followed when we arrived back at the end of our day there.  On the train my girlfriend’s brother got chatting to a young man who was coming to this area for his first time and was being conscripted into the army for compulsory military service (which is another sore point I intend to expand upon at a future date!).  We offered to drive him and his friend into town when the train pulled in, so that they could catch a bus on to their army camp to enlist, which they had to do by eleven in the evening.

So, when the train pulled in, we all got off the train and made our way to my car.  As we were preparing to put the young chaps’ stuff in the car and leave, a lone taxi driver there asked my girlfriend’s brother what we were doing, and he told the taxi driver that we were giving the lads a lift into town, to which the taxi driver said we didn’t have the right and that they had to go with him!

We told him it was none of his business and continued to load their bags; the taxi driver, in the meantime, called the police and complained and said that they were sending out a police car and we would have to explain to the rozzers why we were taking his business away – as if we intended to charge the extra passengers for the ride.  He also told us it was illegal to give military service conscripts lifts from the station – apart from the fact that the two lads hadn’t actually started their military service, this is utter rubbish anyway.  Besides the sheer gall of his interference in our private affairs, it was also obvious from his slurred speech that the taxi driver had been drinking heavily - yet another common feature of Greek taxi drivers.

We loaded up and left.  Funnily enough, as we drove into town two police cars flew by in the opposite direction, towards the station, blue lights flashing.  The amusing thought was that they were heading out to clunk the handcuffs on us, but given the snail-like response of the Greek police to calls demanding what they laughingly call “immediate action response” (in Greek, amesi drasi, which is printed on the sides of police patrol cars), I somehow suspect the taxi driver is still waiting for them at the station, sucking a mint and wishing he hadn’t drunk the last four ouzos…

2 Comments:

  • I've been ripped off, yelled at and almost attacked by greek taxidrivers. The only ones who helps you with the bags are the ones waiting for the buss from the airport to fool people into giving them some 1000% more money than normal cost.


    I actually got to this blog through technorati searching for blogs commenting on every day life in Greece.

    Which city do you live in?

    /bookmarked

    By Anonymous hh, at November 27, 2005 6:52 AM  

  • http://whitenation.blogspot.com/2006/01/heres-to-miners.html

    Some professions such as Taxi-Drivers and Miners get no respect. Working Whites say, "The onlything the government thinks we're good for is paying taxes." No one cares about us anymore either, we're all being treated like shit and our safety is risked for some richpole-cat to get even richer. Keep telling your sid eof the story and we'll tell ours, people are waking up.

    By Blogger Warren, at January 04, 2006 5:24 PM  

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